Nationals Arm Race

"… the reason you win or lose is darn near always the same – pitching.” — Earl Weaver

Roark commits to pitch in WBC: why this is potentially Bad News for the Nats


Roark's playing in the WBC; beware Nats fans. Photo Alex Brandon/AP via

Roark’s playing in the WBC; beware Nats fans. Photo Alex Brandon/AP via

Word came out that Nats under-rated star Tanner Roark has committed to pitch for the US in the World Baseball Classic (WBC) coming up this spring.  He was invited earlier but had yet to commit, and his participation comes on the heels of word that Max Scherzer would be bowing out of the WBC thanks to a stress fracture in one of his fingers.  (Which, as a side note/tangent, is pretty distressing news that may be under reported; our $200M ace has a fractured knuckle??  Should we be worried?  anyway, back to the post).

Four years ago, I wrote a post titled “Gonzalez to play in WBC: why this is really Bad News for the Nats” and I’m recycling that post (and title) here, because the message is the same: This is not good news for the Nats and t heir 2017 season.

Simply put: Every Nationals pitcher who has *ever* participated in the WBC has regressed from previous performance in the season following.

Here’s a quick table showing every Nats WBC pitcher with their ERA and ERA+ the season before their WBC participation and subsequent to it:

WBC YrPitcher NameERA Season beforeERA season AfterERA+ season beforeERA+ season after
2006Luis Ayala2.66inj153inj
2006Chad Cordero1.823.19225134
2006Gary Majewski2.934.6113996
2009Joel Hanrahan3.954.7810989
2009Saul Rivera3.966.110970
2013Gio Gonzalez2.893.36138113
2013Ross Detwiler3.41184.0494

As you can see; every single one of our pitchers was either injured or regressed (mostly significantly) after playing in the WBC.  The worst case was Luis Ayala, who pitched against the wishes of the team and blew out his elbow on the field during the WBC.  That injury cost him the entire 2006 season.

But this is just our team’s experiences.  How about Baseball wide?  MLB has endeavored itself to argue that participation in the WBC does not lead to an increase in injuries amongst its players and especially pitchers.  But we’re not talking about injuries here; we’re talking about performance.   Here are two very well done studies that show the negative impact of pitching in the WBC:

  1. This July 2010 study on Fangraphs
  2. This Feb 2013 study from
  3. A 2014 study at BeyondtheBoxScore that does really in-depth studies of all three WBCs that uses better numbers than I do.

The BaseballPress study shows some of the same numbers I’ve shown above, but conducts the analysis across every pitcher who participated in both WBCs prior to the 2013.  And the results are pretty evident; across the board on average pitchers regressed both in the year of the WBC and in the year after.  The BeyondtheBoxScore tries to do a much more scientific approach using control groups and finds less significant/trivial regression, but depends on projection systems and not year over year performance, which is kind of the point; we live in the real world, not projection systems.

It isn’t hard to figure out why these guys regress; playing in the WBC interupts the decades-old Spring Training plans for getting a starting pitcher ready for a season by slowly bringing him along in terms of innings and pitch counts.  And, suddenly exposing both starters and relievers to high-leverage situations in February/March that they aren’t ready for either physically or mentally puts undue stress on these guys that (as we have seen) manifests itself later on down the road.

Nonetheless, as much as I like the WBC as a concept I think its “bad” that one of our key pitchers will be participating.  At least we now know that Roark’s time may be limited thanks to new rules that allow roster augmentations.  If Roark throws one 5 inning stint maybe it won’t be so bad.

I just wish the WBC would be played AFTER the season (you know, like the World Cup does it; AFTER the pro seasons have ended) instead of before it.


33 Responses to 'Roark commits to pitch in WBC: why this is potentially Bad News for the Nats'

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  1. OK, here are two problems with drawing the conclusion participation in the WBC is automatically bad:

    (1) A sample size of seven?
    (2) More importantly, they don’t extend invitations to guys who’ve just had crappy/mediocre seasons. Gio in 2013 is a classic example. 2012 was his career year; he put up 5 fWAR, won 21 games and pitched to a spiffy 2.89 ERA (the only time in his career he was below 3.00). That was unsustainable no matter how you slice it. 2012 Gio gets invited to pitch in the WBC! In 2013 Gio turned back into … the guy that he’s been pretty much every season of his professional career: a solid, unspectacular 3 fWAR pitcher. Was that because of the WBC? Seems incredibly unlikely. And that guy isn’t getting invited to pitch in the WBC.

    John C.

    26 Jan 17 at 9:05 am

  2. See also, Ross Detwiler and his career year …

    John C.

    26 Jan 17 at 9:06 am

  3. FWIW, hockey has its world championships at the end of the season as well, during the time of the last couple of rounds of the Stanley Cup playoffs. They seem to draw the top guys for that competition, at least the ones whose teams aren’t still playing. Basketball does it the same as baseball, though — before the season — and has the same trouble as baseball with getting the top guys to participate.

    NOT TRYING TO JINX HIM, but I’d vote Roark the most durable of the Nat starters, for whatever that’s worth.


    26 Jan 17 at 9:35 am

  4. Didn’t represent this as a statistically significant post. But I did link to others that have tried.

    Point was more along the lines of, “the WBC forces players to throw harder and more competitively earlier than they want, and every time a Nats pitcher has participated he’s pitched worse the subsequent season.”

    If you want to argue that they’re always worse the next season because they happened to have a career year the season before and they got picked as a result and therefore naturally they will be worse the next season, well that’s an argument. Doesn’t work for Luis Ayala in particular but so be it.

    I don’t want Roark getting off his schedule to pitch in a meaningless exhibition that isn’t taken seriously by all the USA players and therefore we have no chance of winning. Call me when Mike Trout and Bryce Harper play.

    Ask yourself this: are you happy that your team’s #3 starter is pitching in the WBC this year? I’m not; not when we traded away all our high-end starter depth AND Strasburg is coming off an elbow injury AND Ross is coming off a shoulder injury AND Scherzer has a fractured knuckle AND Gio is regressing year after year AND Cole has never proven he can get pitchers out AND our next best option has never thrown a MLB pitch.

    Todd Boss

    26 Jan 17 at 9:39 am

  5. Do I want Roark pitching in the WBC? Absolutely not. Just pointing out that he’s been the most durable. And FWIW, I’d rather have it be Tanner than Max.

    Continuing from the previous thread, the Nats definitely need to improve their emergency starter stock. I don’t trust Cole at all.

    Speaking of such things, the radio silence on Hammel has been astounding, considering the general league-wide need for starters and the total lack of qualified ones on the FA market. Bad medical reports? Bad agent? What gives? (Or maybe just a bad FIP.)


    26 Jan 17 at 11:11 am

  6. I don’t like the WBC and think baseball has a problem with these kinds of things generally. It’s much more of a local sport than basketball. I’d stick a fork in it.

    Drew is back. That’s good


    26 Jan 17 at 11:46 am

  7. Yeah, I had predicted this morning that after Holland signed, the Nats might start spending. Let’s hope we got the 125 OPS+ Drew of ’16 rather the one who just barely combined for that number for ’14 and ’15 together. I really didn’t think they were going to go into the season with Difo as their SS/2B backup.

    I’ve never paid much attention to the WBC and care nothing about it. Wouldn’t miss it, or particularly even notice that it’s gone. It seems like yet another Selig legacy that needs to die.


    26 Jan 17 at 12:46 pm

  8. I love the idea of the WBC, but have not been a fan of the implementation nor the participation. If the WBC had the cache and the participation rate of FIFA’s World Cup, we’d be singing a different tune.

    Just saw the Drew signing; i’ve argued for it and am happy for it. Agree with those who have poitned out his 2016 was potentially a one-off but would rather take that risk than with Difo.

    Todd Boss

    26 Jan 17 at 1:08 pm

  9. I’m neutral on Roark pitching in the WBC – I’m unconvinced of the risk and would not prevent a player from playing for Team USA. The WBC itself is designed to grow the sport internationally. A couple of tournaments ago the Dutch team did very well, and it caused a spike of media reports in the Netherlands about “Honkball” (Dutch for “baseball”). That’s good for baseball.

    My understanding from commenter chatter on various baseball pages is that teams believe that Hammel is injured and don’t want to pay for a busted pitcher.

    John C.

    26 Jan 17 at 1:13 pm

  10. Wow, hacked by Jose Canseco . . .


    27 Jan 17 at 6:17 am

  11. OK, let’s look at the bench:

    1. Drew
    2. Heisey
    3. Loby/Norris platoon guy

    One of those slots has to be someone who can play CF, which would figure to be Goodwin or Taylor. I greatly prefer Goodwin to Taylor, but Goodwin has less MLB experience, FWIW.

    The other slot is the CRob 1B/LF one. Let’s be blunt: Clint wasn’t good last year. He needs a serious competitor, more than just the legend that is Matt Skole. That’s why I’ve been lobbying for Morrison or Moss, or maybe Lind (Wally’s suggestion). Any of those guys would be significant upgrades and would be legit platoon options with Zim or Werth if either really struggles. CRob just isn’t a regular platoon option.

    If the 1B/LF guy is LH, that might stack the deck against Goodwin. They wouldn’t want Heisey as the only RH bat on days that Loby is sitting (although Loby can technically bat RH, but it’s only recommended against Rich Hill). My dislike of Taylor is well known. The Nats just don’t have a lot of other options, though.

    I’ve noted before that the bench is where you really see the lack of depth in what the Nats’ farm system has produced. It has come up with the star starters from the high draft picks, and even some good bullpen depth with guys like Solis and Glover, but the bench candidates the system has to offer are all very, very borderline guys: Goodwin, Taylor, Skole, Difo, Bautista, S. Kieboom. I hesitate to throw Severino into that grouping because there’s still an outside hope that he can make a regular contribution (although his bat is still suspect). But the rest of those guys don’t inspire much confidence on the bench of a contender, leaving the Nats having to spend from their tight payroll to improve an area the system hasn’t adequately furnished.


    27 Jan 17 at 6:35 am

  12. On the steriods spam: weird, not too much stuff like that gets through, especially on current posts. You should see the crap that the spam filter catches 🙂

    Bench discussion: if season started tomorrow the bench is pretty obvious: Drew, Heisey, Lobaton, Robinson and Taylor. That’s basically what the bench was last year; was last year a good bench? I don’t know how to get bench splits anywhere, so we’re looking at individual pieces. Lobaton is weak, Drew was awesome but it may be an outlier, Heisey’s BA was awful but he had a ton of clutch hits/homers, Taylor strikes out too much and Robinson’s production dropped off drastically from his awesome 2015.

    So we have some competition for these guys. Is it just Skole vs Robinson or is there anyone else in the discussion for that lefty PH/corner spot? Is Brandon Snyder in that discussion? Probably not since he bats RH; is Snyder competing with Heisey? Or is Snyder just AAA depth and Ryan Zimmerman insurance? What about 4th OF? Obviously Goodwin vs Taylor and I don’t see a single ML signing that is CF-capable. We like what Goodwin showed last fall; does that overcome years of poor minor league performance? I saw him play; is he a center fielder? He seemed a bit stocky to me to be a plus-defender centerfielder, which is kinda of what you need out of your spare outfielder.

    Todd Boss

    27 Jan 17 at 10:48 am

  13. Goodwin has primarily played CF throughout his minor-league career. I’ve heard it said that he has better defensive instincts than Taylor, but I really have no idea whether that’s true.

    I’m just tired of Taylor’s act. It’s the same Danny/Desi swing-from-the-heels horror show. He’s also a clueless baserunner, even after a year with Davey Lopes in his ear. Yeah, he’s got skillz, but he doesn’t actually play the game very well at all.

    But no, I don’t see any other speedy OF options on the roster at the moment. In a crunch, Bryce or Trea could play CF, though.

    Stevenson up by mid-season? Robles by Sept.? We’ll have to see. Not sure why they would start the service-time clock on Robles unless they really need him.

    I don’t see anything in Brandon Snyder’s stats that leads me to believe he’s a major-leaguer. I think he’s just filling out the Syracuse roster.


    27 Jan 17 at 12:38 pm

  14. I said earlier that I think Taylor stays and makes the 25 man, because I think that’s what the Nats will do.

    But I agree with KW’s take on him. I see a good athlete with bad instincts who doesn’t learn so you don’t get the value of the athleticism. I don’t think he adds value in a reserve role. Maybe on a team like Oakland that can give him a full season of 600 ABs to see if that forces him to adapt. I’d still take the under.

    I guess every so often one of these guys does figure it out later, like Carlos Gomez. But there are probably 100 guys for everyone like him that never made it.


    27 Jan 17 at 8:53 pm

  15. New “6th starter” candidate in the house: Vance Worley. He might be the odds-on favorite for the Petit long-man role.


    28 Jan 17 at 7:32 pm

  16. Moss to the Royals for 2/$12M. I wasn’t thrilled by his high K rate, but he would have been a good platoon option for both 1B and LF if Zim and/or Werth struggle. Options still available for a similar role are Logan Morrison and Adam Lind.

    FWIW, the Nats still have two 40-man slots open, as Worley took a minor-league deal.


    29 Jan 17 at 2:00 pm

  17. I’ve said a few times I think they are tapped out, and more and more that seems to be the case.

    If Lind drops to a $1m + incentives, that could be a good fit to replace CRob. Otherwise I think this is our team. Well, at least until the Bryce trade ….


    29 Jan 17 at 6:31 pm

  18. I thought Worley was a great “get” at $1M plus incentives, particularly considering what they paid for guys like Perez and Petit last year.

    I don’t know what to think about the “tapped out” reports. They were in hard on Jansen, and at least in somewhat on Chapman and Melancon, all at amounts far more than they’ve collectively spent elsewhere this offseason. They at least bid on Holland, although I don’t blame them for not going to where the Rox did. Would they have had to dump salary elsewhere if they added any of those guys? We don’t know. Gio’s would have been about the only dumpable salary of some size remaining, but at the cost of noticeably weakening the rotation.

    I don’t mind it if this is essentially our team. Barring significant injuries or the now-expected odd-numbered-year funk, it should be a playoff team.


    29 Jan 17 at 7:57 pm

  19. I don’t think Worley is very good, but would like to be wrong. And you’re right, they acknowledged being in on Jansen so I guess they can go higher for the right guy.

    I still think Lind could be possible for a song. Lots of better and similar guys ahead of him. Better hitter than CRob.


    29 Jan 17 at 8:37 pm

  20. Worley is under 30, has a career ERA of 3.75, 85 MLB starts, and doesn’t appear in the TJ database. That’s not bad for $1M, even for a soft-tosser. At that price, if he doesn’t pan out, it’s no big deal. Same with Jacob Turner, who is only 25.

    As for the bench, I can’t believe that they’re happy with CRob and Taylor. They need to bring in some competition for those guys.


    30 Jan 17 at 8:21 am

  21. I was going to separately write up Worley but i’ve been totally sidetracked for time lately. My 2 cents; yeah, that’s a pretty darn good get for what they paid. No TJ but he does have an elbow surgery on his resume (bone chips/bone spur 2012). Clearly it affected his 2013 season; his ERA jumped 3 points that year.

    I suspect Worley is “person most likely to succeed Yusmeiro Petit” right now.

    Todd Boss

    30 Jan 17 at 8:36 am

  22. Speaking of guys with second chances, COL DFA’d Eddie Butler, who is intriguing. I expect that they’ll be able to trade him for something of decent value, so I don’t think we get him. But we have the 40 man space available and that could be an interesting guy away from altitude (even though the numbers were horrible).


    30 Jan 17 at 11:50 am

  23. Wow, Moss only got $4.75M guaranteed (3.75 + 1M buyout), much less than the 2/12 initially reported. That’s a deal that could have been in the Nats’ price range. I hate his high K rate, though, and he had a bad finish to his season. Still hoping for someone like Morrison or Lind.


    30 Jan 17 at 12:11 pm

  24. KW … No, Moss got 3.75 this year, guaranteed 7.25 next year, plus the $1M buyout


    30 Jan 17 at 4:49 pm

  25. I read is as the team being able to pay 1M to get out of 7.25, so 6.25 not guaranteed. You may have better details than what I saw, though.

    Meanwhile, the longer that Wieters lingers, the more I wonder when/if Boras is going to show up on Rizzo’s porch with a used-car deal for him.


    31 Jan 17 at 5:08 am

  26. Nice low-risk pickups in Nathan and Albers. Whether Nathan has anything left or not, he could be a good mentor for all the less-experience bullpen arms the Nats have. Albers, meanwhile, was really good 2012-15 so has a track record despite an awful ’16.

    I’ll bet the signing of these two comes close to closing the door on Belisle, though. There’s a lot of profile overlap with what he does.


    1 Feb 17 at 5:16 am

  27. It’s worth noting that the last strong year Nathan had, Maddux was his pitching coach.


    1 Feb 17 at 5:21 am

  28. Eddie Butler to CHC. Looks like they gave actual value though, not a waiver wire pick up, so I can’t complain.


    1 Feb 17 at 1:45 pm

  29. KW, a national writer is echoing your bench concerns:


    2 Feb 17 at 1:22 pm

  30. “ZIPS thinks Skole is a little better than Robinson, but that’s like saying a stab wound is preferable to a gunshot; if either of these guys are playing much in 2017, the Nationals will be bleeding wins.” Cameron also points out Taylor’s base-running limitations (but not his even worse limitations in reaching base in the first place).

    There are still a lot of good ballplayers unsigned, several who could do the Nats a lot of good. (No thanks on Alvarez, though.)


    2 Feb 17 at 1:40 pm

  31. I just newposted a long-in-waiting Ranking of the rotations. But on this line of thinking i’m kinda surprised there’s not even an Outfielder listed among NRIs right nwo for the Nats.

    Todd Boss

    2 Feb 17 at 3:23 pm

  32. […] out his injured Flexor Mass Tendon on Opening Day, Roark will be slotting in at #2 after having his normal spring training interrupted by the WBC, to be followed by the erratic Gonzalez, the also-coming-off-an-arm-injury Joe Ross, and […]

  33. […] Roark struggled in 2017 (… perhaps caused/aided by the frequently-seen WBC hangover?) but is still slated to be our 4th starter on a rotation that doesn’t currently have a fifth […]

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